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Over the past year, we’ve produced and attended many online meetings and events, so we wanted to share our top tips to holding the best online meetings you can. You aim is for your attendees to say, “YES!!!! another online meeting”. Seems impossible? trust me, it’s not – but it does need a bit of planning. Don’t just send out the invites and then leave it until 5 minutes before the meeting to decide what you’re going to say. So here are our top ten tips to hosting a killer online meeting.

 

  1. Don’t brainstorm during online meetings – Despite the fact that online meetings have now become the norm in many businesses, people don’t like talking in front of their colleagues online. It can be intimidating for the younger ones and because of that, you’re not going to get the best out of your contributors, and with people talking over each other, good ideas will get lost. Creativity happens at different times of day for different people. A much better way to go about it would be to tell your attendees that you’re looking for thoughts and ideas about a particular subject or topic and ask for contributions by the end of the next working day by email.
  2. Don’t invite too many people – Online meetings with more than 6 – 8 people are unproductive. If you need to have a meeting with more people, either hold a series of smaller meetings or consider holding a webinar. With more than around 8 people in the meeting it starts to become ineffective, with interruptions and the likelihood of diffusion of responsibility – where someone is less likely to pay attention as they think others will do so instead “Why should I listen when everyone else is – I can always ask someone else”.
  3. Set and distribute an agenda – Just like any regular in-person meeting (remember those?), set an agenda, and stick to it. Before the meeting, make sure that everyone attending has a copy of the agenda. People like to be prepared so by sharing the agenda before the meeting gives people an opportunity to prepare. The last thing anyone wants is to be put on the spot in an online meeting with their colleagues.
  4. Pick the right time to host your meeting – With people working from home, and in some cases in different time zones, make sure that you plan your meeting times to suit everyone. For meetings where your attendees are all in the same time zone, plan your meetings between around 11am and 2pm. Not only is it a mindful and considerate thing to do, but “morning people” will love it, and night owls will have a chance to grab a coffee (or three) to get the old grey matter working.
  5. Use the element of surprise – Try to gain a reputation for doing something different and unexpected. Make your meetings ones that people actually look forward to. Start all your meetings with positive information and keep your meetings upbeat. Boring information leads to boring meetings, and generally depresses people. That’s not what anyone wants at the moment, so try to use your meetings to motivate people and help them feel good about what they’re doing.
  6. Don’t make the meeting too long – Make sure your meetings last no longer than 45 minutes. Anything longer means that concentration levels will start to drop and you may as well be peaking to cardboard cut-outs. If you need to hold longer events, schedule breaks around every 45 minutes and try to introduce a fun activity into the schedule every now and again to lift people’s attentions. For a better meeting, time block each of your agenda items, that way you will get through all of the agenda in the time you have allocated for the meeting. If a particular agenda item is in danger of running over, schedule a follow-up meeting on that item, or ask for any further thoughts by email by a set time, but when time’s up on an agenda item, bring the discussion to a close and move on.
  7. Don’t be the one who’s ‘on mute’ – We’ve all been there, so make sure you don’t start your meeting the same way. It sounds obvious, but the simplest ideas are often the best, try sticking a note beside your camera reminding you to un-mute your mike.
  8. Don’t use virtual backgrounds – Ok, so virtual backgrounds can be fun. We’ve all used them, and they have a place, but the truth is they use massive amounts of processing power from your computer, and that means you stand more chance of video drop out, stuttering audio and pixelated pictures. Only use virtual backgrounds if you have a high spec computer, and even then, stick to static backgrounds.
  9. Make sure your Internet connection is stable – Most people connect to the Internet using WiFi, but that can cause problems for your online meeting. Imagine your Internet connection to be a long corridor with the “Internet” at the end of it. Information travels down the corridor to and from your computer, but so does the information from every other WiFi device in your household, and the corridor can only handle so much traffic before things start getting clogged up. There are a couple of things you can do to help the stability of the connection between your device and the Internet. The biggest one here is to make sure that the kids aren’t using online gaming devices such as Playstation and Xbox. These devices use massive amounts of traffic (remember the corridor scenario), so the fewer devices connected to your home network the better. For the best chance of a stable connection, use an ethernet cable between your laptop or desktop and the Internet / broadband router. That way, firstly the ‘corridor’ is a lot wider, and you’re the only person using it. But even that will still be affected by other WiFi users in your household as the connection from your router to the Internet has a finite capacity, but by using a cable you won’t suffer WiFi drop out, and your connection to the router will be quicker. The type of device you use will also affect the speed and stability of your connection to the Internet. If possible, only use a desktop or laptop computer. Mobile devices such as a phones and tablets don’t normally have an ethernet port, so you won’t be able to use a cable to the router, and with a smaller screen it’s going to be harder to share any content to others in your meeting. If you must use a mobile device, make sure you have a stand for it, otherwise others will start to feel sea-sick if your camera keeps moving around, which will in turn make them feel disinterested.
  10. Make sure you look and sound good to your attendees – This is by far the biggest one of all. How you look to others on your online meeting will affect how engaged your attendees are. If you host your meeting from a dimly lit room then your picture quality is going to be poor and people will become disinterested. Ideally, position your device so that you have natural light on you, but if that’s not possible then make sure you pick somewhere well lit. The position of your camera is also very important. Try to elevate the position of your camera (or laptop) so that the camera is looking slightly down towards you. That way when you’re looking at the screen, it won’t look to others like you’re looking down at your keyboard. Most webcams come with a built in microphone, but if you want a top quality online meeting, then consider investing in a separate microphone for your device. Speakers or headphones? When was the last time you saw a TV presenter in a studio wearing headphones? Yes, they do normally have an ‘in-ear monitor’, but normally that is only used for direction from the control room. Pretty much all online meeting platforms have what’s called echo cancellation which is designed to stop the sound from your speakers being picked up by your microphone and transmitted back into the meeting – which creates a horrible feedback loop. However, if you turn your speakers up loud enough then you will still cause problems. The same is true if your microphone is too close to the speakers, so if you have external speakers, then try moving them further to the left and right of the microphone for a better sound quality. Before positioning your camera, take a look at the news on TV and look at how the image of the presenter looks. Normally the presenter will be fairly central in the shot from left to right, and the presenter’s head will be a short way from the top of the screen so that their eyes are about a third of the way down the screen. This is the type of positioning that you’re looking for. Before you go live with your meeting, you can check the positioning and sound from your camera and microphone by going into the settings for your meeting app. That way you will already know how you will be seen by others in your meeting. And finally, it goes without saying but where possible, pick a room without distractions, so keep the pets and children out, and let everyone in the house know that you’re in an online meeting so they don’t disturb you whilst you’re online.